Social Anxiety and Shyness as an Invitation to The Great Unknown

Social Anxiety and Shyness as an Invitation to The Great Unknown

Girl sitting on her camp bed journaling

Every month I receive calls from concerned parents whose teenagers have been diagnosed with social anxiety. They see their teenager spending too much time alone, having trouble making friends, seeming depressed, etc. It’s easy to understand why parents are very worried. I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life, and I know it can feel painful and constricting to live with. However, when teens diagnosed with social anxiety spend time at camp, it’s evident these wonderful, kind, sensitive, vulnerable, and generally very shy teenagers can find their way.

I’ve read that social anxiety is a commonly diagnosed disorder and 15 million people suffer from it, which makes it the third most common mental health disorder. Social anxiety is characterized by fear of being rejected, criticized, judged, or being perceived unfavorably. It’s a fear of humiliation or embarrassment. Not surprisingly social anxiety becomes more prevalent with the onset of puberty and the powerful physical and emotional changes that come with it. While social anxiety can feel overwhelming, and even debilitating, it seems very human to me.

I’m pretty sure teenagers have always been shy and plenty anxious. They are experiencing so many new and unexpected desires, emotions, and physical changes, it is completely natural to feel confused, awkward, helpless, and hence, anxious. Teens today live in a world where what they do and say can be instantly seen via social media to a vast and sometimes unforgiving audience, it must feel very different than when I was a teen, fifty years ago.

David Whyte, the wonderful poet, said that …

“Shyness is the sense of a great unknown, suddenly about to be known. It is the exquisite and vulnerable frontier between what we think is possible and what we think we deserve.”

I remember reading this passage from a book, the main character is reminiscing about his past (paraphrasing) “When I was a teenager I felt like I was on fire. I remember there were plenty of kids who could happily help me let that fire get out of control, and there were plenty of adults who seemed available to extinguish the fire, but I remember feeling, why is there no one here to help me tend this fire?”

Having to deal with powerful feelings and discover new ways of being in the world is daunting, but what if instead of feeling shame around our shyness and social anxiety, we could look at it as healthy, natural, and even necessary. Uncomfortable feelings are needed as we explore the great new mysteries life is offering us. I will try to view my own social anxiety through that lens.

How does teen camp help teenagers lessen their social anxiety? Well, if our camp is about anything, I think it is about connection. Teenagers recognize fairly quickly at camp that they are not going to be judged harshly, if at all. I believe this helps them relax, let go of some defenses, and share their gifts with peers, sometimes for the very first time.

We create a space where teenagers talk openly about things they are trying to figure out. We offer group discussions on topics like gender, sexuality, race, parents, politics, etc., and teenagers can express themselves in a real, and honest way. While we are not a “therapy camp,” I’ve seen how therapeutic these discussion groups are.

We leave kids alone to read a book when that is what they feel like doing, and they don’t have to always put on a happy face, or act happier than they feel. Finally, if social anxiety is a fear of being rejected then it just makes sense that being in a community where you are seen, accepted, and loved can go a long way towards reducing some of those social anxieties and shyness, and maybe more easily accept that invitation to the great unknown that is our life.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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Magic: The Gathering Card Game at Odyssey Teen Camp

Magic: The Gathering Card Game at Odyssey Teen Camp

6 young men at Odyssey Teen Camp showing off a rare card from a booster pack at Odyssey Teen Camp.

Showing off a rare card from a booster pack at the Magic: the Gathering Intensive.

At Odyssey Teen Camp, we have a rich and diverse selection of classes from campers to choose from. One that has become very popular in the last few years is our Magic: The Gathering intensive, where campers get to play the game together in a week-long activity block. One of our counselors, Aaron, has been playing Magic since he first came to camp as a young teenager. Here, he explains a little bit about how Magic works and what makes it so appealing.

The Anticipation 

“There is a great amount of excited commotion and speculation in the Dining Hall today. An eclectic bunch of campers sit in two groups of 8 around the long tables, waiting eagerly to begin. Most of them have never played this game before, and now, they will be expected to make decisions that will impact them for the rest of the week. There is talk of Mythic Rares and magical beings who can travel across space and time. Of ancient and unkillable monsters and of powerful sorceries. When it comes to strategy games, there is nothing like Magic: the Gathering.

The Magic Intensive

In the OTC Magic Intensive: Campers are invited to build their very own deck of cards to battle with through a special format called booster draft. This is kind of like a sports draft, where you take turns picking the player (card) who you think will fit best on your team. At the end of the week, the campers with the best record in a 3 round Swiss (non-elimination) tournament all get more cards to add to their collection (everyone gets something just for playing though).

Much More Than a Card Game

Magic is a game that builds communication skills, promotes friendships and healthy competition and encourages reading, math and critical thinking in ways that stimulate the imagination. The game has been around for 25 years and has seen many changes and at Odyssey, Magic has somewhat developed a cult status. Campers from just about every Pod play the game and older campers as well as counselors help new campers learn the game and improve their skills.

If you’ve never played Magic before, this is the best place in the world to start. We can’t wait to see you on the battlefield!”

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Rays of Sunshine at Odyssey Teen Summer Camp

Rays of Sunshine at Odyssey Teen Summer Camp

Alumni Camper Matt with his parents at Hollywood Bowl

Teenage boy struggling with depression finds hope and connection at summer camp

Being a young person is perhaps harder now than it ever was before. The pressures that society can place on our teens is immense – teachers demand better grades, coaches demand more time and better performances on the athletic field, and the temptations put upon our teens by their peers are greater than ever.

That’s why we believe so strongly in what we’re doing here at Odyssey Teen Camp. Below is a testimonial we just received from a family who was struggling with a lot of what we described above, and we’re so grateful that we were able to work with them and have Matthew at our summer teen camp.

Matthew’s teen camp story

“It was the springtime of 2007; we were caught in a very serious challenge with our son, Matthew, who had started to show signs of depression that compelled us to try finding solutions to support him. In our journey to find resources for this sensitive, creative and deeply soulful kid. Our research led us to Odyssey Teen Camp.

Seeing that there was an open house weekend, we piled into our car and headed to the oasis known as Odyssey Teen Camp. Arriving there we gathered with several families as Adam Simon, the camp director, guided us around the wonderful setting. Standing by the pond adjacent to the main camp, we recall Adam speaking to a question as to why he founded this camp. As he spoke, sharing with us a slice of his own life as a teenager, lost in the system and unsupported as a sensitive teen, he choked up, tears forming in his eyes. The passion shown immediately infused the adults and teens, showing clearly that Adam was not your typical man, but one with deep sensitivity and love for these lost kids trying to find their way in a world which did little to acknowledge how very special they were.

Matt spent the full month session at Odyssey Teen Camp that first summer of 2007. The kid who we left at the camp that July summer afternoon was a changed person when we came back to pick him up in August. He was filled with a sense of unity and purpose, having a lightness and buoyancy that we had not witnessed to date. This was truly a transformative experience, not only for Matt, but for all the other kids who were fortunate enough to have Adam Simon and his team open the door to a luminous world otherwise not experienced by these kids.

2008 and 2009 brought summers of his attending Odyssey Teen Camp, but more importantly forging an indelible relationship with Adam Simon. In June 2009, Matt graduated from Darrow School and who sat in the audience witnessing this success but Adam, who had made the trip, with his dog, to this small boutique boarding school to be there for Matt. Needless to say, Odyssey Teen Camp has been the catalyst for Matt to take hold of himself in a bold and confident way, thus being instrumental in his taking charge of his life.

Since that time, Matt has continued to actively participate in Adam’s pearl, becoming a camp counselor and assisting Adam in a variety of projects and creative endeavors. Truly, Odyssey Teen Camp and Adam Simon were life-altering phenomenons that have priceless value. Thank you Adam for all that you’ve done and continue to do to change the lives of our youth. You are a gift!

Janeen and Michael”

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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